14 Books We Loved This Year
For nearly 100 years, PEN America has worked to celebrate and protect writers and their work across the world. As the year comes to a close, we asked our staff to share some of the books from 2018 that they loved. Below are 14 of our picks (see also: the longlists for our 2019 Literary Awards!).
Registers of Illuminated Villages, Tarfia Faizullah
I want to write like Tarfia Faizullah: her lyric, her urgency, her imagery, her attention to detail, her courage, her risking, her history, her honoring, her imagination, all of it, astonishes me everytime, in every poem. In Register of Illuminated Villages, Faizullah is masterful at rendering gutting and gorgeous examinations of life’s unrelenting twin truths: beauty and pain. It’s a book that I keep close and keep returning to.
— Caits Meissner
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, Dunya Mikhail
A must read. Powerful stories about surviving the horrors of war, and a beautiful portrait of women, men, and children of Iraq in their full humanity.
— Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf
The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
This is a book I wish I had grown up with, a novel in verse that’s the story of a young woman growing into her life, her beauty, and her power. I read it in one sitting and was deeply moved. There’s a handful of lines that really stuck with me as an electric rallying cry, that I remember often: “And that’s how Xiomara bare-knuckle fought the world into calling her by her name, into not expecting her to be a saint, into respecting her as a grown-ass woman.”
— Lily Philpott
Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday
If you want to feel the real world melt away as you become immersed in story and riveted by character, this book is your outlet. A warning: its important to know the book is in 3 segments lest you be devastated when the first one ends.
— Suzanne Nossel
Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
There, There, Tommy Orange
I can’t pick just one. All three of these books are stunning for their sharp examination of identity and structural discrimination — but will stick with you for the brilliance of their prose.
— Katie Zanecchia
Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, Jose Antonio Vargas
A heart-wrenching read in which Jose shares his experiences as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. The story is honest, vulnerable, and incredibly important in the current political climate. Not only is it incredibly moving, but it also serves as a good conversation starter around the issue of immigration.
— Grace Linczer
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
A fantastical, atmospheric retelling of Rumplestiltskin in which a young woman attracts the unwanted attention of the mythical beings that haunt the woods after claiming she can change silver into gold.
— Juliann Nelson
In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, Mitch Landrieu
Part-memoir, part-manifesto, the former mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu recounts his reckoning with race, inequality, history, and memory, and the path that eventually led him to push for the removal of Confederate statues in the city.
— Anoosh Gasparian
Disoriental, Négar Djavadi
A mesmerizing story of exile, and the patterns of estrangement that repeat over generations.
— Chip Rolley
Educated, Tara Westover
Westover paints a mesmerizing picture of her almost-unbelievable childhood, told with a remarkable depth of humanity and pure storytelling skill. I haven’t gotten it out of my head.
— Summer Lopez
As someone who is in the middle of writing a memoir, I have been told you have to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with too much tragedy. Tara found a way to build these events into the story in a way that made me want to keep reading.
— Amanda Fletcher
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation follows a privileged, depressed woman who has resolved to sleep a year away with the help of a prescription-happy psychiatrist. It’s a testament to Moshfegh’s formidable skill that a novel about doing nothing can be so completely enthralling.
— Blair Beusman
The Last Palace, Norman Eisen
A marvelous work of history thinly disguised as a memoir of Norman Eisen’s time as Obama’s envoy to the Czech Republic.
— Thomas Melia